Morocco wants to rejoin the African Union but first, it wants another country kicked out

King Mohammed VI (right) wants Morocco back in the African Union.
King Mohammed VI (right) wants Morocco back in the African Union.
Image: AP/Abdeljalil Bounhar
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Thirty-two years after quitting, Morocco has officially asked to rejoin the African Union (AU). The request was made at the recent African Union summit, hosted in Rwanda from July 17 to 19.

Morocco initially left the AU, known as the Organization for African Unity in 1984 after the body’s decision to recognize and admit former Western Sahara, also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as a member state. “While we wait for wiser days, we will bid you farewell,” a Moroccan representative said, announcing Morocco’s decision to withdraw from the organization.

For decades, Morocco has been at odds with Western Saharan independence movement Polisario Front. In 1975, Morocco annexed most of the territory, but the conflict remained violent until a UN ceasefire in 1991. Today, Morocco controls most of the territory, but the SADR continues to proclaims itself an independent state.

Morocco’s request to rejoin the AU is likely to kick-start another round of tense talks over the legitimacy of SADR. In a message to the AU summit, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI urged the African Union to consider its stance on recognizing SADR.  “This so-called state is neither part of the United Nations, nor is it a member of the Arab League. But most importantly, at least 34 African countries don’t recognize it,” he said. “Institutional Africa can no longer bear the burden of the historical error and its cumbersome legacy,” he added.

Over the years, Morocco has maintained a stiff position on its claim to Western Sahara. In March, Morocco threatened to withdraw troops from UN peace-keeping missions over what it termed flagrant comments by UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, while visiting refugee camps housing 150,000 people from SADR, in southern Algeria. Then, Ban Ki Moon referred to Morocco’s presence in the territory as an “occupation”. A UN spokesman later stated that the use of the word was regretted.

To rejoin the AU, Morocco will have sign and ratify the body’s Constitutive Act, after which a majority vote by member states will determine its admission.